Is Cannabis Truly Effective for Relieving Anxiety?

One of the most commonly cited benefits of cannabis is its ability to relieve symptoms of anxiety, producing a relaxing effect in users. Gradually, countries are starting to come around to the substance; after many decades of being illegal in most areas, nations are starting to see the medicinal benefits of the drug and are starting to legalize it. For example, in Canada, not only is cannabis legal, but you can purchase it online thanks to online dispensaries like BudBuddies.ca.

But are the positive effects of cannabis all they claim to be? Are the anxiety-relieving effects based in science or are they merely anecdotal?

The Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

There are some clear short-term effects of cannabis use on symptoms of anxiety. People who smoke cannabis self-report much lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression; in other words, they tend to feel calmer, more relaxed, and more at peace with themselves. This aligns with popular perceptions of cannabis, suggesting it’s effective at “mellowing you out” when you’re feeling nervous or anxious.

Long-term, things are more complicated. The same study found that there isn’t any long-term reduction of anxiety symptoms with frequent use of marijuana. In fact, long-term use of the drug may increase your risk of depression over time.

Accordingly, it may be best to think of cannabis as akin to an over-the-counter pain reliever; it may help to reduce your subjective negative feelings in the moment, but it won’t do anything to reduce the root causes of those feelings. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, cannabis isn’t going to cure you.

Contradictory Evidence 

In some people, marijuana can actually have the opposite effect. When smoking cannabis, some people have increased feelings of anxiety and paranoia; they’re more likely to report feelings of nervousness and depression. Individual differences in self-reported feelings after consuming cannabis vary tremendously, so it’s not appropriate to assume that you’re going to react in a specific way.

Types of Marijuana (and CBD)

It’s worth noting that there are many different strains of marijuana you can choose from, each with different effects. Most of these can be categorized as an Indica strain or a Sativa strain. Indica strains tend to be more physically sedating, producing a calming effect that’s perfect for sufferers of anxiety. Sativa strains tend to produce more energizing effects, making them more appropriate for creative types or those who like to smoke before social gatherings.

These different groups of effects are only partially based on objective evidence; much of the differences here are rooted in anecdotal evidence. Still, the differences between these groups of marijuana strains may be rooted in the different types of cannabinoid compounds found in each. Indica strains tend to have more CBD, which is a compound specifically believed to help soothe anxiety. Unlike THC, another important compound in marijuana, CBD is not psychoactive, and won’t produce the “high” you get from smoking marijuana. However, it may provide some measure of pain and anxiety relief on its own, which is why CBD oil and related products are becoming more popular. Evidence on the effectiveness of CBD oil is mixed.

The Role of Subjective Experience

It’s also important to note the important role that subjective experience can play on your feelings after consuming cannabis. The type of cannabis you consume, your individual susceptibility to the effects of the drug, your location, the time of day, and your current mood will all affect the type of high you feel after consuming the drug. For example, if you’re already feeling severe anxiety and you smoke in an unfamiliar location with unfamiliar people, it may end up making your anxiety worse. But if you’re smoking in the comfort of your own home, curled up on the couch with your favorite movie playing in the background, you’ll almost certainly report reduced feelings of anxiety—but it might be due to your environment, more so than the drug.

Other Ways to Reduce Anxiety

If you experience symptoms of anxiety regularly, it may be in your best interest to pursue other modes of symptom relief (and disorder improvement). For example, cognitive behavioral therapy is highly effective for most sufferers, and in extreme cases, prescription medication may be advisable. You can also manage feelings of anxiety with the help of a healthy diet, regular exercise, mindfulness meditation, and regular social engagements with close friends and family members.

The evidence suggests that cannabis is effective at reducing anxiety symptoms, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Short-term, these effects are clear and measurable, but long-term, cannabis may not be of much help. For treating anxiety, marijuana is best used as one component of a multifaceted strategy with many individual habits and forms of treatment.

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